InfiniBand and 10GbE Head for Showdown

By Michael Feldman

December 21, 2007

Will 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) reach critical mass in the datacenter next year? The beginnings of a viable 10GbE ecosystem are now emerging and a number of analysts think 2008 may be a watershed year for this technology. Dell’Oro Group reports nearly a million 10GbE switch ports were shipped in 2007 and predicts 100 percent growth over the next two years. The Linley Group estimated 50 thousand 10GbE NICs were shipped in 2007 (twice as many as the previous year); however, 99 percent went into midrange Unix servers rather than x86-based systems. Although some formidable challenges remain, the industry may finally be ready to make the shift from Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) to 10GbE.

The key battleground for interconnect dominance will take place where high performance connectivity is in most demand: high end technical computing (science research, oil & gas, financial services, life sciences, digital animation, etc.) and high performance enterprise computing (Web 2.0, video editing & production, IPTV, real-time database applications, etc.). These types of applications have a critical need for more bandwidth and/or lower latency. With computing power being concentrated by multicore processors, blade servers and virtualization, server-to-server and server-to-storage communication has become a critical bottleneck.

While Fibre Channel is confined to storage networks, both InfiniBand and Ethernet have the ability to connect both storage and compute servers. Although InfiniBand is well established at the high end of HPC, the vast mid-market is still up for grabs, and will quickly respond to the best price/performance solution. The 10GbE switch and NIC vendors are counting on the ubiquity of Ethernet to make it a no-brainer as a unified server and storage fabric for the datacenter.

Analysts like Linley Group’s Bob Wheeler would support that contention. In a report about the benefits and challenges of 10GbE, Wheeler writes: “[T]the adoption of 10GbE is a certainty. The only questions are how quickly 10GbE will be adopted and to what extent it will displace alternative technologies such as Fibre Channel and InfiniBand.” In truth, adoption is long overdue; the aforementioned Linley report was written in January 2005.

InfiniBand vendors believe that the technical superiority and attractive price/performance of their technology have paved the way to the HPC mid-market as well as to the broader enterprise computing market, where highly dense and highly utilized hardware is creating the same demands on the interconnect as it has in traditional HPC. Over the past couple of years, InfiniBand has established itself as the de facto standard for high performance interconnects. More than half (58 percent) of the 100 fastest supercomputers now use InfiniBand, according the latest TOP500 list. Although the list is still dominated by Gigabit Ethernet overall, InfiniBand penetration has been doubling every year since 2005. (For one man’s view of the significance of InfiniBand’s rise in the TOP500, read Gilad Shainer’s article in this issue.)

By moving from Single Data Rate (10 Gbps) to Double Data Rate (20 Gbps) in 2007, InfiniBand has opened up a performance gap that 10GbE will be hard-pressed to fill. With Quad Data Rate InfiniBand (40 Gbps) products on the horizon, 10GbE will have to compete on something other than raw performance.

The big selling points for 10GbE are its position as the heir apparent of GigE and its ability to act as a unifying fabric for NAS, SANs, LANs, and cluster computing systems in the datacenter. NIC vendors like NetEffect, NetXen, and Chelsio Communications are offering 10GbE adapters with built-in support for RDMA (iWARP) to lighten the load on the CPU and achieve InfiniBand-like latency. Chelsio has been pushing its “unified wire” strategy based on its new 10GbE Terminator 3 ASIC. The chip has the ability to handle NIC, TOE, iSCSI and RDMA applications concurrently.

Up until this point, the 10GbE NICs and switches have been too expensive to be widely deployed in clustered systems. But with sub-$1000, RDMA-capable NICs starting to appear from vendors like Chelsio and $400-per-port switches from Arastra, that equation is changing. Arastra is using Fulcrum’s latest 10GbE switch silicon, which was designed to enable compute and storage clustering via Ethernet connectivity.

According to Chelsio CEO and President Kianoosh Naghshineh, once 10GbE NICs that support storage and server connectivity become standard on server motherboards, users will be faced with the decision to purchase additional InfiniBand and Fibre Channel HBA/HCAs, switches and gateways for clustering applications or to just use the omnipresence Ethernet NIC. He predicts 10GbE will have “an identical or better cost structure with InfiniBand by the end of next year [2008].”

This year, Woven Systems, a startup switch vendor, set the stage for datacenter Ethernet when it released the EFX 1000, a 10GbE switch that performs active congestion management for lossless Ethernet. In tests at Sandia National Laboratories, researchers determined that the Woven switch actually outperformed an SDR InfiniBand setup when running a CBench performance test. The lab recently deployed the Woven switch for its 128-node “Talon” cluster.

“Ten gig is really ready for prime time in high performance computing and compute cluster interconnects,” said Derek Granath, Woven’s VP of marketing. “The ecosystem is mature.”

Finisar Corporation, an optical communications vendor, sees a big opportunity in fiber optical cables for Ethernet. The company recently announced its “Laserwire” optical cable assembly aimed at 10GbE connectivity. Unlike some of the other optical cable vendors, like Intel and Luxtera, which are more focused on InfiniBand connectivity, the Finisar assembly is implemented as a single 10 Gbps serial link optimized for 10GbE. It requires just 0.5 watts per optoelectrical transceiver at each end of the cable. The company is betting that the move to 10GbE in both HPC and the larger enterprise market is imminent and they want to be there to catch the wave.

To some extent, the OpenFabrics Enterprise Distribution (OFED) software stack is leveling the interconnect playing field by creating a unified platform for RDMA over Ethernet and InfiniBand. By making the software interoperable, users are free to take advantage of either technology without having to modify their code. The wild card here is Intel’s 10GbE approach, which rejects the RDMA/TOE model in favor of an I/O acceleration system that distributes network processing over the entire platform (the processor, chipset, network controller and software). Sun Microsystems announced its own 10GbE networking technology that offers a similar approach. At this point, the industry has not decided which approach to favor.

None of the 10GbE vendors think Ethernet is ready to replace InfiniBand at the high end of HPC. For those applications, InfiniBand’s bandwidth and latency cannot be matched by the current 10GbE solutions. In certain cases, application performance may be better with Ethernet solutions, based on more mature IP software stacks or the use of traffic routing in some of the newer switches. But for the most part, InfiniBand is about two years ahead of Ethernet in raw performance. InfiniBand switches and adapters that support QDR (40 Gbps) will begin to appear next year, while 40GbE is not expected to be ratified as a standard until 2010 (with volume product shipments years after that).

Rather than taking advantage of a deeply entrenched base, InfiniBand vendors are looking to work their way down from the TOP500 list into the volume market. Buoyed by a May 2007 InfiniBand study from IDC that projected a 40 percent compound annual growth rate in total factory revenue (InfiniBand switches and adapters) from 2006 to 2011, vendors are eyeing the broader enterprise market and moving to the next technology level.

Mellanox, the sole InfiniBand switch silicon vendor, recently announced its next generation InfiniScale IV chip, which supports QDR InfiniBand. The chip offers server-to-server and server-to-storage connections of 40 Gbps. (Because of inefficiencies and overhead in PCI Express 2.0, applications will realize only about 25 Gbps.) Latencies across a single switch chip are 60ns — less than a third of the latency of the top-of-the-line 10GbE switch silicon. The InfiniScale IV silicon supports 36 ports per switch, compared to the 24 ports supported by InfiniScale III technology and current 10GbE switch silicon. This works to reduce application-level latency for scaled-out clusters due to fewer switch hops. The latest chip also supports adaptive routing for those cases where static routing is not optimal, and congestion management to prevent the whole fabric from being overwhelmed with unusually heavy traffic. The new Mellanox switch chip is scheduled to be available in Q1 2008, and both QDR switches and adapters are expected to show up later in the year. QDR InfiniBand is likely to make its debut on the TOP500 list, perhaps by November 2008.

While the 10GbE proponents would love to get a system on the TOP500 list, the real battle is more likely to take place in the trenches of the datacenter, where sub-teraflop cluster systems are being sold in volume and are often connected in more loosely-coupled grids. Here 10GbE solutions may have an edge over InfiniBand since this type of installation is more likely to end up in an Ethernet-only facility. Also systems such as these often don’t need the maximum levels of connectivity performance offered by InfiniBand.

For their part, InfiniBand suppliers are hoping that increases in virtualization and compute and storage density continue to the point where connectivity demands outrun what 10GbE solutions can reasonably provide. In that scenario, InfiniBand is likely to become a much more mainstream solution. The next 12 months may provide some answers.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

What’s New in Computing vs. COVID-19: Fugaku, Congress, De Novo Design & More

July 2, 2020

Supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence are crucial tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, researchers, corporations and governments are urgently devoting their computing reso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time last year, IBM announced open sourcing its Power instructio Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Career Notes: July 2020 Edition

July 1, 2020

In this monthly feature, we'll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it's a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

Supercomputers Enable Radical, Promising New COVID-19 Drug Development Approach

July 1, 2020

Around the world, innumerable supercomputers are sifting through billions of molecules in a desperate search for a viable therapeutic to treat COVID-19. Those molecules are pulled from enormous databases of known compoun Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC-Powered Simulations Reveal a Looming Climatic Threat to Vital Monsoon Seasons

June 30, 2020

As June draws to a close, eyes are turning to the latter half of the year – and with it, the monsoon and hurricane seasons that can prove vital or devastating for many of the world’s coastal communities. Now, climate Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Maxar Builds HPC on AWS to Deliver Forecasts 58% Faster Than Weather Supercomputer

When weather threatens drilling rigs, refineries, and other energy facilities, oil and gas companies want to move fast to protect personnel and equipment. And for firms that trade commodity shares in oil, precious metals, crops, and livestock, the weather can significantly impact their buy-sell decisions. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This year is no different though the conversion of ISC to a digital Read more…

By John Russell

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2020 Keynote: Hope for the Future, Praise for Fugaku and HPC’s Pandemic Response

June 24, 2020

In stark contrast to past years Thomas Sterling’s ISC20 keynote today struck a more somber note with the COVID-19 pandemic as the central character in Sterling’s annual review of worldwide trends in HPC. Better known for his engaging manner and occasional willingness to poke prickly egos, Sterling instead strode through the numbing statistics associated... Read more…

By John Russell

ISC 2020’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

June 24, 2020

Normally, the Student Cluster Competition involves teams of students building real computing clusters on the show floors of major supercomputer conferences and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hoefler’s Whirlwind ISC20 Virtual Tour of ML Trends in 9 Slides

June 23, 2020

The ISC20 experience this year via livestreaming and pre-recordings is interesting and perhaps a bit odd. That said presenters’ efforts to condense their comments makes for economic use of your time. Torsten Hoefler’s whirlwind 12-minute tour of ML is a great example. Hoefler, leader of the planned ISC20 Machine Learning... Read more…

By John Russell

At ISC, the Fight Against COVID-19 Took the Stage – and Yes, Fugaku Was There

June 23, 2020

With over nine million infected and nearly half a million dead, the COVID-19 pandemic has seized the world’s attention for several months. It has also dominat Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers


Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This